OAKHURST – “I am Travis Ma. My real name is Xiao Ma. But just forget about that. I know you guys cannot pronounce it. I am an exchange student from China. I am a junior in Yosemite High School now.”
Yosemite High School is currently working with schools in China to create opportunities for students to come to the United States to study, explains Jeanne Ratchford, who wears many hats at YHS, including principal’s secretary.
Having hosted exchange students before, she has opened her home to Travis and another YHS attendee, Johnny Zhang.
“The boys’ mothers are close friends from college who live in different parts of China, and sent their boys here because they value an American education,” says Ms. Ratchford.
Travis himself continues, “I’d love to talk about my life in America. I have been here for about seven months. I like the life here so far, and my English is getting better and better.”
His host “mom” agrees.
“I have seen Travis mature and gain confidence in the time he’s been here,” says Ms. Ratchford. “He seems to appreciate nature and has developed an interest in photography which is a passion of mine. I think the most difficult adjustment for him has been American food, which doesn’t speak well of my cooking,” she laughs, and says she enjoys hosting Travis and Johnny.
Their parents believe the boys will be the beneficiaries of a well-rounded education in the United States.
“They felt that in the U.S. students learn to think for themselves, rather than memorizing to a test, and that students live a more balanced life here. Their hope is the boys will eventually attend Universities in the United States,” adding that students like Travis and Johnny pay tuition to attend YHS, and that no public funds are used to educate international students.
Travis says the pace of school and studies has risen recently.
“It seems like we got much busier this semester. We did a research paper in English class, which is really hard for me. It needs more than 2,000 words, almost all the words I know in my mind!”
Travis took the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) standardized exam to show proficiency in English.
“It is a test for foreign students in order to test their English level,” says the busy student. “I feel I did better than last time. Hopefully I can get a better grade.”
The multi-talented teen also plays in the YHS Band.
“There was a performance called ‘Nite on the Town,’ and I was playing my clarinet on the show. I had a solo part in a song which made me really nervous. But I don’t know why I felt much better when I actually started playing. And I think we did a good job.”
Travis continues to do a good job, together with Johnny, simply navigating the tricky waters of high school and doing what most teenagers like to do – having fun. With weekend jaunts to places ranging from Yosemite National Park to the San Francisco bay, and plenty of time for homework, the boys are in good hands at school and at home.
“My three boys are grown and gone and my empty nest was too quiet. Johnny and Travis are not my first exchange students. Years ago, when my boys were younger, we had a boy from Thailand live with us for a year and a girl from China another year. I’m proud of our little mountain community and love sharing it with people. In my experience, they grow to love it too. I know the boys miss home but hope they look back on this time with fond memories. It has been an adventure for all three of us!”